Wondering why some swimmers turn up to training with mesh bags bulging with kit, while others just get in and swim? Well, a range of well-chosen pool tools can help you increase strength and stamina as well as working on technique. It’s important to get the right kit for you though, so in this article we break down the most common kinds of swim hand paddles.
What to look for in a pair of swim hand paddles
When choosing hand paddles, consider your ability and strength. A common rule of thumb is not to choose paddles more than 10% bigger than your hand to avoid overworking the swim muscles, but this of course varies with ability and using any paddles with poor technique can result in injury if you’re not careful – so if in doubt, have a swim coaching session or head to a triathlon club session to make sure your technique is on point before you start using paddles.
Another reason you may be keen to use paddles is if you have entered a swimrun and you’ll have seen photos of competitors using paddles and pull buoys to race (both of which are allowed in swimrun, unlike triathlon). The benefit of this is obviously faster swim times, especially over races which have very long swim legs. Be sure to practise with the paddles first though and make sure your partner can match your pace if swimming untethered.
What are the different types of swim paddles available?
There are also different types and designs of paddles. The bigger the paddle, the more pressure you will have to put against it in each stroke, but the more gain you will achieve per stroke. Different shapes will mould to your hands differently, while holes in the paddle allow water to push through thereby reducing the resistance. You can also vary the strap lacing to increase or reduce the amount you have to perfectly position your hands on entry and catch phase.
Best swim hand paddles
Speedo Finger paddles
Finger paddles do just as they say – they attach to just the fingers, leaving the palm of the hand free. Benefits? They enable you to work on the catch and pull phase of your technique without removing the feel for the water from the palm of than hand – great for newbies and those trying to really work on the intricacies of technique. Being smaller, they also put less pressure through the arms and shoulders which can also be good for those who are new to training with paddles.
Finis Strapless Isolation Paddles
These paddles from Finis might look a bit unusual and that’s because they don’t have the rubber straps of most paddles – instead they are moulded to the contours of your hand and include a single hole for your centre finger. This makes them less ‘stable’ thereby meaning you need to maintain proper stroke technique for them to stay on. We would use these for drills and stroke-specific training.
Easystroke Swimming Hand Paddles
These paddles from Decathlon feature a wrist trap plus central finger lug which makes them simpler to use than some of the paddles with multiple rubber straps. Designed for intermediate swimmers looking to improve their technique, Decathlon state they will align the hand and forearm to promote good technique as well as building strength through the shoulders and back.
Maru Hand Paddles
If you’re looking to try hand paddles for the first time these smaller, contoured paddles are a good introduction. Being less large than some they will put less pressure through your shoulders, while the rubber straps will keep them in place and allow you to build strength. They are versatile too, as to work more on technique just use the central finger secure, rather than the hand straps.
Contour Swimming Paddles
These contoured swim paddles are designed to fit well against the shape of your hand and with dual rubber straps are infinitely adjustable plus once on, they stay put. We’ve previously used these for swimrun racing and liked the security they offered, plus the wrist strap means you can free your hand yet keep them ready to go on the shorter run legs. They are also ideal for pool training though as use them with both straps to build strength, or with just the finger strap to work on technique.
Finis Freestyler Hand Paddles
They might look a bit Star Trek but these unusual paddles from Finis serve a useful purpose, as the surfboard shape decreases resistance through the water and planes the hand forward, lengthening each stroke. They also provide instant feedback and encourage a streamlined position and good hand entry.
Top image credit: Breca Swimrun